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Posted April 9, 2019, 1:30 pm
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Francesco Molinari hopes to continue big year at Augusta

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    Francesco Molinari and his caddie Pello Iguaran walk up the #2 fairway during the first round of the Masters Tournament Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club, Thursday, April 6, 2017, in Augusta, Georgia. (MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF)

During the last 10 months or so, Francesco Molinari has played the best golf in the world. He’s won four times, including the British Open, and became the first European to win five points in a Ryder Cup.

Always accurate, he’s transformed his game, adding power and touch to climb to No. 7 in the world and enter the Masters Tournament as one of the secondary favorites.

Golf’s oldest championship provided the setting for Molinari’s top accomplishment so far. Nearly five years ago, the British Open also motivated him.

He was ranked 43rd in the world in 2014 and paired with two of the best and most powerful in pro golf, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy in the third round at Royal Liverpool. They bombed drives past him all day. Well past him.

“I just didn't have a chance. I could play as well as I wanted but I didn't stand a chance,” Molinari said. “That was I think a big turning point for me. It's all about perspective and how you take things. I took it like, if I want to keep doing this job and do it at a high level, I need to work as hard as I can and see if I can get closer to those guys.”

Molinari, 36, worked with coach Denis Pugh to change his swing, “taking the brakes off” as he explained to Golf Digest earlier this year. Their work enabled him to add 20 yards to his tee shots in a three-year span. He averaged 301 yards last season, a respectable 52nd on the PGA Tour.

“So what that did for me is now when I go out, play with Brooks or Dustin or Rory or whoever you can name, and I'm not really intimidated, because I feel like I can compete with them, even if I'm not hitting the ball 370 yards,” Molinari said. “I'm hitting it long enough to be competitive and to use my strengths to get good performances in.”

Is he ever.

Molinari’s torrid tear began in late May at the BMW Championship, a premier event on the European Tour. He shot 68 in the final round to outgun McIlroy by two shots, igniting a sizzling run through the summer, which included a victory at the Quicken Loans National, runner-up finishes in the U.S. and Italy, and a tie for sixth at the PGA Championship.

The highlight may have been his impeccable ball-striking throughout the British Open on the demanding Carnoustie layout. Paired with Tiger Woods in the final round, Molinari relied on his newfound mix of precision and power to fire a 69 and defeat McIlroy and Justin Rose by two shots.

Then again, maybe it was Molinari’s performance outside Paris, where he paired with Tommy Fleetwood to steamroll the Americans in four matches then beat three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson to earn Europe’s winning point.

“Moliwood” was born, solidified by a unforgettable and hilarious post-match video produced by the European Tour.

Molinari, the first Italian to win a major, is playing in his eighth Masters since making his debut in 2010. He’s made five cuts, but broken 70 only once and has a 73.25 stroke average. His best finish is a tie for 19th in 2012.

Despite that indifferent track record and the challenges a soft Augusta National could pose, Molinari enters the week feeling confident because of the changes reflected in his game.

He shows no sign of cooling off, either. There was another dazzling display at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month when he closed with 64 to win, followed by a march to the semifinals of the WGC-Match Play in Austin.

“Confidence comes with success, and I've had a lot of success in the last few months, and I think that the important thing is that I don't have to let my guard down,” Molinari said Tuesday, in his familiar monotone. “I still have to go through all the work and the process that got me to this point, and hopefully will get me even further forward in my career.”

Masters Record - Francesco Molinari

Year Place Score 1 2 3 4 Earnings
2018 T20 -2 72 74 70 70 $128,150
2017 T33 +5 78 72 71 72 $62,150
2014 50 +11 71 76 76 76 $23,400
2013 T84 +11 74 81     $10,000
2012 T19 E 69 75 70 74 $96,960
2011 T51 +2 75 71     $10,000
2010 T30 +3 70 74 75 72 $45,563